If you’re an avid fan of video games or anime, the name Hatsune Miku has likely been cropping up recently, mainly with the physical English releases of Project DIVA F 2nd (PS3 and Vita) and more recently, Project Mirai DX for the 3DS. So, who on earth is this pigtailed girl, and why should we care?
Hatsune Miku is not a person or an anime character – she is essentially a musical instrument, that indie musicians (as well as professionals) use in their original songs to add a vocal track. Confused? Allow me to explain!
Firstly, we need to know what ‘Vocaloid’ is. This may get confusing, but bear with me!
Vocaloid is a computer program developed by Yamaha, that allows users to make a synthesised voice sing. As with lots of programs, multiple versions have been released – so far, there has been Vocaloid, Vocaloid2, Vocaloid3, and more recently, Vocaloid4.
To use it, users first must purchase a voicebank of their choice. The term ‘voicebank’ refers to the voice (or ‘singer’) you purchase. Within a voicebank, there are many sounds which, when put together, form words and lyrics. They often have a design on the box showing their appearance – stereotypically, they follow an anime influenced style. If you purchased Hatsune Miku, below is what you’d receive.
A voicebank is the general term for the actual voice, but they’re more commonly named Vocaloids as an overarching name, since this takes both the voice and design into account. For example, Hatsune Miku is a Vocaloid, and her voicebank comes in both English and Japanese.
It’s worth noting that voicebanks are created by recording sounds from a human being, which are then edited and released as a synthesised voice for people to purchase! Miku’s voice was sampled from popular anime actress Saki Fujita.
Once a Vocaloid has been purchased, users then input lyrics at different lengths and pitches. With some tweaking and perfecting, this gives the result of a synthesised voice singing! Vocaloids come in many languages, including Japanese, English, Korean and Spanish.
The video below is a demo song for Sachiko, a Japanese Vocaloid. This should help you begin to visualise how Vocaloid works!
There are many different Vocaloids available to purchase for the Vocaloid software, each created by different companies. Miku, Rin, Len, Luka, Kaito and Meiko are all Vocaloids created by a company called Crypton Future Media (though Kaito and Meiko were recorded by YAMAHA, they were distributed by Crypton). The official English page regarding Hatsune Miku can be found here.
Gumi and Gakupo, two other popular Vocaloids, are created by Internet Co.
People all across the world use this software for many different reasons. Some perhaps can’t afford/find an actual singer to work with, whilst some just enjoy the rewarding results of using the software. Another big reason is that people use it as a platform to gain fame through the face of a ‘virtual idol’. For example, let’s say you write an original song, and post it to YouTube. It might be a great song, but without it becoming viral, chances are it may not get many views. However, if you use Miku as your vocalist (or at least sing alongside her), the song is bound to gain many more views! Her name and face are already incredibly well known, so featuring her in a song is certainly going to give you a much higher chance of gaining fans. This is due to the fact that people already know who she is, and find a common ground to be instantaneously attracted to your music. Vocaloid essentially puts indie musicians into a separate bubble, where music is easier to access.
Most producers (the word for fans who write original Vocaloid music) even collaborate with others, to have a music video or artwork created! For example, Dog Tails (a Japanese producer) wrote an original song named ‘Reality’, and worked with Miky Rei (a French artist and animator) to create the music video below.
So, let’s get back to exactly who Miku is!
Miku was Crypton Future Media’s third Vocaloid (the first two being Kaito and Meiko marketed), and was originally released on the Vocaloid2 software. Her initial release back on the 31st of August 2007 is essentially what sparked the Vocaloid revolution – her striking design by KEI and her adorable but versatile voice made her an essential tool for musicians and artists alike. Since then, well over 100,000 videos featuring her have been uploaded to Nico Nico Douga (a Japanese video site, like YouTube), and countless numbers of fan art have flooded websites, as well as 3D animated videos. She has also had a couple of updated versions, which you can see below! There is also an upcoming Hatsune Miku V4X for the Vocaloid4 software.
This Google Chrome campaign highlights the spread of Miku across the globe, featuring the song Tell Your World by KZ.
Each producer uses Miku’s voice in a different style, so she actually sounds different in each song you listen to. Naturally, some producers are also better at using her than others – which is why in some songs she may sound human, but may sound very synthetic in others. It’s worth investing time to find a producer you like!
Of course, because the songs are made by fans all across the world, that also means that they are very diverse in genre! Some feature Miku in heavy metal, some in EDM, some in jazz and some in pop – the possibilities are endless!
Miku has also performed live on stage since 2009 in many countries, through the use of a projection onto a large sheet of glass, accompanied by a live band. This video below shows Canadian producer Guitar Hero Piano Zero‘s song Glass Wall being played in New York.
Over the years, Miku’s name and face have become so widespread that she’s even been used in marketing campaigns for huge companies! She’s been a baseball cheerleader, featured in Toyota adverts, and even the face of Dominos in Japan. She’s popped up countless times in video games too. Celebrities overseas have even started to move into the world of Vocaloid – Pharrell Williams has remixed Last Night Good Night by KZ, and Lady Gaga featured Miku as the opening act for her Art Pop tour. Miku has even starred in her own opera called THE END, which has previously made its way to France! As you may also know from the beginning of the article, Miku also has her own series of rhythm games called Project DIVA and Project Mirai, which feature popular songs written by fans.
Below is an old collaboration between Hatsune Miku and Monster Hunter!
Well, those are the basics! To conclude, Miku is a synthesised vocalist for the Vocaloid software, which anyone can use in their original music. She’s a blank slate that anyone can work with, and has sparked collaborations across the globe. When you listen to a song featuring her, it’s important to bear in mind that the producer is the one behind the music! Next time you’re jamming to Po Pi Po, be sure to give LamazeP‘s other songs a research, and give him a tweet on Twitter! Producers often love hearing feedback about their music.
Although this article just discusses Miku, there are a large number of other Vocaloids available for purchase from different companies! My personal favourites, aside from Miku, include Maika, Luo Tianyi, Cyber Diva, Yuzuki Yukari and Sachiko.
Are you going to join the Miku revolution? Or do you have some questions? Feel free to get in contact with us!
Below are also some websites that are worth visiting!
VocaDB – a website where you can read detailed information about specific songs, producers, or videos. The content is basically entirely updated by it’s users, somewhat like Wikipedia. You can even find links to producer’s official channels! Probably the most resourceful site any Vocaloid fan could visit.
Vocaloid Wiki – a great source for information about Vocaloids, companies, and more.
Project DIVA Wiki – a very helpful Wiki with pages upon pages of information about the Project DIVA games.
Vocallective Records – an English Vocaloid record label, under which lots of producers publish work. You can purchase digital and physical albums from their store!
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